How to choose a SIM-only Data Contract that’s suitable for you

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If you need 5GB of mobile data or more each month it becomes cheaper to get it bundled in a contract than to buy it on a prepaid SIM card. 5GB of prepaid mobile data valid for 30 days on MTN costs R299. A MyMTNChoice 80GB SIM-Only data deal bundled with 50GB of anytime data costs R299 per month over 24 months – that’s 10X the data – before getting another 80GB worth of monthly mobile data as a bonus from MTN!

Screenshot: MyMTNChoice 80GB SIM-Only data deal.
Screenshot: MyMTNChoice 80GB SIM-Only data deal. Source:

So, a SIM-only data contract is cheaper than buying monthly data, but which is the best SIM-only data plan for you?

A SIM-Only data contract is a contract you can take with a cellular network provider where they issue you with a SIM card without any device whatsoever and then allocate mobile data bundles monthly to that SIM card. You will then insert that SIM card into any cellular network-capable device to connect to the internet. This is different from other data contracts, which may include a device.

Thus, a SIM-only data contract may be suitable if you already have an Apple iPad WiFI + Cellular and need a data deal separately, for example.

We have put together some of the most important questions to ask yourself and your mobile data service provider so that you can choose the most suitable SIM-Only data contract for you:

What type of SIM-only data contracts are there?

Data contracts are either Standard or Top-up. A Standard contract gives you a set amount of inclusive data bundles for a fixed monthly fee. This type of contract is suitable for you if you want to have total control over your spending on mobile data. It may feel restrictive for some other users, though, as it does not allow you to buy extra data if you run out before the end of the month (NB: This is if you set your out-of-bundle spending to zero!). If you run out and need extra data bundles before your monthly allocation in the new month you may have to get use data at out-of-bundle rates.

A top-up contract will allocate you your monthly data bundles for a fixed fee, but it also allows you to buy data bundles if you run out before the new month’s allocation. You may be tempted then to go and buy more data bundles if you run out, so it may be suitable for those who can afford to spend a few extra Rands on mobile data.

Telkom has a top-up SIM-Only LTE data contract with 80GB of anytime data for R199 per month, a very good deal, but as soon as you step out to their out-of-bundle rates it becomes expensive at R0.30 per MB. A solution may be to choose a contract type that allows you to buy promotional data bundles, which are cheaper than 30-day bundles.

What will you use the data for?

Decide what your data needs are so you know how much data you may need each month. Data bundles generally start from 1GB to 2GB, 5GB, 10GB, and then jump to 50GB, 75GB, and 100GB, until reaching 1000GB and more!

Here is a typical example of how much gets depleted with use:

  • 1.5 gigs of data every hour when streaming an HD movie on Netflix or watching Showmax.
  • 100MB per hour on a Microsoft Teams meeting with audio-only. A class with video can be as much as 250-500MB per hour!
  • Casually scrolling through Instagram and Facebook will get to about 1GB per day because of the reels and videos.

Check your current data usage and add to it your new data requirements (you’re getting a new deal because your data needs have increased). Then choose a data bundle that suits those needs and your pocket.

Who will be using the data?

Decide who will be using your data, and here are two reasons why: A toddler watching Cocomelon all day on a smart TV will cost you about 1.5GB of data per hour. Reason two: you can share your data between yourself, your spouse, and your teenage children who spend their data on TikTok videos.

  • With a mobile sim card installed on a device, you can
  • Remotely monitor a camera feed installed at your farm
  • Streaming movies, Instagram, and live videos on Facebook
  • A backup in case your Telkom ADSL goes out again

The type of data users and how you use mobile data may determine which data deals to get.

Which area do you live in?

The physical location you intend to mostly use your SIM card in matters because network coverage is not the same everywhere. Now, if your SIM will be used in a dual-SIM phone then you might not have such a problem. But if it’s going to be used at home for Netflix and such, then start by checking the 4G/LTE network coverage in for that area. Go online and search for your network’s coverage map.

Coverage for our intended area is Jouberton, Klerksdorp. And by tapping on the LTE and Mobile buttons we can see Vodacom’s LTE coverage on mobile data:

Screenshot: Vodacom’s LTE coverage map using mobile data in Jouberton, Klerksdorp. Source

Which Service provider should I use?

Start by checking the deals your current service provider has, especially if you already have a contract with them. Negotiate a deal with them to upgrade your plan, because you can go up in plans at any time. Adding another contract will be less painful than with an unfamiliar network provider.

But, here is who is the best at mobile data plans:

  • Telkom has the cheapest SIM-Only data deals, but its LTE network is limited to urban areas.
  • MTN has the fastest network performance but has restrictive contract terms (Think MTN Sky’s unlimited data SIM-only deals)
  • Afrihost Air Mobile has the best data contract terms
  • Vodacom’s SIM-only choices are abysmal and expensive
  • rain also has some very good deals, but their good network performance is restricted to urban areas.

Perhaps, go for rain or Telkom if you’re fortunate enough to be in an area with good connectivity, but if you’re in the rural areas choose MTN.

How long do you want your contract to run?

Contracts from mobile data providers run either: month-to-month, 12 months, 24 months, or 36 months.

The advantage with a month-to-month is you can give a 20 day notice to cancel the contract the following month. You would then be able to easily take advantage of a cheaper or better package elsewhere.

Whereas with a longer contract the service provider might heavily discount the package to make it more attractive to potential customers.

We recommend a 24-month contract because of the discounts mostly associated with them. A monthly contract might be better suited for you if want to test out a network’s performance in your area first.

Which device are you going to use?

A SIM-only contract means you won’t be given a device to put your SIM card in, so you should already have one or will procure it.

You can go ahead and insert your SIM card into any SIM-enabled device like a phone, laptop, remote camera system, tablet, dual-SIM phone, or a WiFi router.

Be sure that your device is fit for purpose, where your device will either hotspot, send a WiFi signal to connect your smart TV, or share a data bucket with your family.

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